Albus Dumbledore Severus Snape
Multiple Eras
Philosopher's Stone Chamber of Secrets Prizoner of Azkaban Goblet of Fire Order of the Phoenix
Published: 10/14/2004
Updated: 11/05/2004
Words: 419,861
Chapters: 24
Hits: 157,499

Harry Potter and the Veil of Mystery


Story Summary:
Suddenly with a higher profile after being proved right about Voldemort's return, Harry's use of Voldemort's name around Hogwarts gains popularity. It also attracts Voldemort's attention in the form of a series of attacks, and Harry soon finds that he is shouldering a burden even greater than the prophecy--the likelihood that Sirius's fate could come to his friends, who will stop at nothing to protect him.

Chapter 18

Chapter Summary:
Harry's friends begin to double as his security detail, even inside Hogwarts, as events make clear that there's nowhere he's completely safe.

Chapter 18

The Repulsion Charm

The Aurors had Harry and Neville for three training sessions during the rest of vacation, pleasing both greatly. Ron continued to be supportive, so Harry hoped that his emotional reaction that Monday night had been a one-time thing. Lupin came for dinner just after the New Year, and Harry discovered that Lupin had very mixed feelings about the notion of changing the limits of freedom to meet the current threat. As a werewolf, he had strong reason to fear it, but as a member of the Order of the Phoenix, he knew it could save many lives. He didn't come down on any one side, but Harry felt he was closer to himself and Molly than to Arthur and Hermione.

Hermione and Neville visited the Burrow frequently during the last week of vacation, giving them a chance to spend time together in a relaxed setting. Harry noticed that Neville was slowly starting to be more comfortable with the idea of Hermione as his girlfriend, sometimes being the one to hold her hand or sit closer to her. Molly thought it was wonderful, and to the great amusement of the others, was inspired to ask Ron if there were any girls at Hogwarts he was interested in.

Harry did not venture out in public again during vacation. Ron and Ginny thought that a short trip to Diagon Alley would be safe, but Harry just wasn't in the mood, even if not for security considerations. After the incident at the department store, Harry's security had been upgraded, and now rather than one Order member, there would be two Aurors shadowing him every time he appeared in public; his protection was now official. Just like the bloody Prime Minister, he thought, remembering Vernon's words. Still, Harry welcomed it to the extent that it would keep his friends safer if they were with him. He apologized to the Aurors for the inconvenience, but they all said they didn't mind. "Part of our job, Harry," Jack Temble had said. "One day, you yourself may be protecting people who really can defend themselves well enough not to need protection." Several other Aurors teased him about this as well, having heard what he had accomplished in the department store. Harry was very happy to be teased, as he knew it signaled respect and acceptance.

Sunday night finally came, and while Harry wasn't dreading going back to Hogwarts, he was less eager than he had been before, mainly because he enjoyed life so much at the Burrow. Ron and Ginny were always around, he felt closer to Arthur and Molly than ever before, and Neville and Hermione were just a fireplace away. He knew that despite the department store attack it had been a very good two weeks, and that he would probably be nostalgic for it in the future.

Not too long before he and the others were to leave, Molly asked him if she could have a word with him in the kitchen. He followed her in, to find Arthur already sitting at the table. They sat down; Harry wondered if he was going to get some last-minute advice about being careful.

Instead, Molly surprised him by saying, "Harry, Ginny had a talk with us about the conversation you all had the day you went to the department store. The one about gold."

Harry had almost forgotten about that. He nodded for her to continue.

"First of all, Harry, it's so wonderful of you to want to do that. Ginny told us everything you said, and we can understand why you feel that way. We know how strongly you feel about it, and we take it seriously if only for that reason."

"Did she ask you the Bill question?" Harry asked.

She nodded wryly. "The little sneak," she said with amusement. "I taught her too well. My answer was 'maybe.' I said that we would probably take it, but only if there was something we particularly needed it for, or knew we would use it for. We wouldn't just take it for no other reason than to have it. We would know that Bill would take care of it, and would always want to help us in the future if we needed it. And we know that's how it is with you as well."

"And as Ron told you," added Arthur, "we're doing fairly well now. He's right, with fewer children in the house, there have been fewer expenses. Now, there are always things we could buy, but the fact is, we don't mind that so much. There's much more to life than having a lot of nice stuff. We're not thrilled that the kids had to use so many hand-me-downs, of course, but there are worse things in life. The kids knew they were loved, and they always had enough of things they really needed. But as for us, we really didn't care."

"But we understand your reasons for wanting to do something like this, Harry, and we do appreciate it," said Molly. "And if there was some luxury item I really, really wanted, I would ask you for it. I think I just got out of the habit of really wanting things like that. But Ginny said you almost looked pained, you wanted to do something for Ron, or her, or us so badly. And you have done something for us, Harry, and it has nothing to do with gold. It's that card, it's mentioning us in the article, it's just being this wonderful person that you are. That's worth so much more than gold, and I think you know that.

"But because of how much you want to do something, here's what I'll do: I'm going to give you my blessing to buy Ron the Firebolt." Harry's eyes went wide. "It was sweet of Ron to worry about my reaction if he just took you up on your offer. But I've decided that the broom he's using can go to Ginny, since she plays Quidditch as well. So you can get if for him anytime you want to."

Harry broke into a wide grin. "Thank you, thank you very much," he said happily. "And you know, I know that money isn't everything, and it's not even that important. It's just nice to be able to do something like this. I remembered how I felt when Sirius got me my Firebolt, even though I didn't know it was him at first. I've wanted to do something like this for Ron for a long time. It's not much, compared to what he, and you, have done for me. I just don't see the point of having this much gold and not doing something like this."

"Well, the chess computer has been a great success," said Arthur. "I wouldn't have minded having a go-I taught chess to Ron, but he's better than me now-but I couldn't find him at a time he wasn't playing it."

Harry smiled. "He's just so used to playing against me, and he's happy for an opponent who can beat him. More of a challenge. But yes, I've been really happy that he's played it so much."

"I think Ginny's happy about that, too," said Molly with amusement. "She said that it meant that she got to spend much more time with you than usual."

"I know, it was really good," agreed Harry. "It's always hard for us at school, because we're different years. This vacation was very good for that. In fact, except for the department store attack, these two weeks have been really terrific. I've never felt so... at home. It's a great feeling. Thank you."

"I suppose it's easier to appreciate when you haven't really had that before," said Arthur. "Most people get used to it. You know we want you to think of this as your home, Harry."

"Oh, that reminds we," said Molly, "will you even be going back to the Dursleys after this school year? Now that you're of age, it doesn't seem strictly necessary, does it? Also, not only could you stay here, but you could stay at Hogwarts if you wanted to, I would imagine. The teachers have quarters; you just don't use them because you want to be in your dormitory. I would think that as a teacher, you could simply stay at the castle if you wanted. Of course, we always hope you'll stay here."

"I know, Molly. I'd rather stay here too, of course. But I really hadn't thought about it. You're right, though, I can't imagine why I would need to go back to the Dursleys. The reason was always for my protection, but that doesn't seem to be an issue, so much, since I was going to turn seventeen this summer anyway. I would have had to leave at some point. I guess the answer is, we'll see what Dumbledore says. If he says I should go to Privet Drive, then I suppose I will, though I'd really rather not."

"We'll talk to him, Harry, and see what he says. You should get going, it's almost time to go," said Arthur. They stood up. Arthur clapped Harry on the shoulder, and Harry exchanged a hug and kiss with Molly. He headed out to the living room, sat down on the sofa next to Ginny, and told her about the conversation.

"Let me know when you order it, okay?" she asked. "I want to be able to see his face when it arrives." He said he would.

They took the Knight Bus back to Hogwarts. Harry could have Apparated to outside the school's gate, but he preferred to travel with Ron and Ginny. They arrived at Gryffindor Tower a little before nine, and went up to their dormitory room. Dean and Seamus were unpacking their trunks.

"Harry, Ron," greeted Dean. "Have a good vacation?"

They chuckled. "Mostly," said Harry.

"Didn't you hear, Dean?" asked Seamus. "Harry and the others were attacked in a Muggle department store by some Death Eaters."

Dean looked alarmed, but not too much, since Harry had obviously ended up unharmed. "I don't get the Prophet at home, so no, I didn't know. Was anybody hurt?" he asked, as Neville walked into the dormitory.

"No, they were all okay, according to the article," said Seamus. "Harry captured two of them, and one got away."

Now Dean was impressed. "You captured two Death Eaters? By yourself?"

"Well, Neville helped," said Harry.

"Not that much," put in Neville. "I just distracted them, you did the hard stuff."

"Neville, those things I threw at them... they probably would have seen them coming if they hadn't been busy dealing with your ropes. All I did was that and the anti-Disapparation field."

"Oh, yeah, practically nothing," mocked Seamus. "You were just able to keep two Death Eaters from Disapparating. Anybody could do it." Harry wondered if he was being overly modest again, but he felt that what he said had been the truth.

"I didn't see the article, Seamus," said Ron. "Did they say anything else except the basics of what happened?"

"There was an analysis article," replied Seamus, "about why they did it, how Voldemort's still trying to take Harry out. They said that Voldemort must be getting desperate, that it's the third time in a few months, not counting the dreams. Usually someone who Voldemort wants dead ends up dead, but not Harry. The article also sort of wondered how long Harry could stay alive, that there would almost certainly be more attempts."

Harry looked Seamus in the eye. "I'm going to stay alive, Seamus, if for no other reason than to tick him off. If he's furious that he can't kill me, then I want him to stay that way." The rest chuckled.

"I wonder, Harry," said Dean, "his minions don't seem to be doing their jobs. Why doesn't he just get you himself? He could have come to the department store."

Harry had wondered the same thing. "I don't know, Dean. If I had to guess, I'd say that while he wants me dead, he doesn't want it badly enough to accept any risk to himself. For all he knows, I could be surrounded by a bunch of invisible Aurors. He knows that Dumbledore's gone to great lengths to keep me alive, and he doesn't know what Dumbledore might have done. He fears Dumbledore, so I think that's why he hasn't tried."

"Harry is going to get an Auror security detail, the article said," added Seamus.

Harry raised his eyebrows, "I didn't know they were going to make that public knowledge," he said. "I thought they'd keep it secret. Maybe catch more Death Eaters."

Ron looked doubtful. "Especially after that, Harry, I think they figure that Voldemort would assume you had security anyway, so it's not such a big secret. Maybe they also want to even discourage the attempts, even if they'll probably fail."

"Thank goodness for the Auror training," said Harry. Neville nodded, and explained to Dean and Seamus. They were surprised that Harry got to train with Aurors, and astonished that Neville did. "I feel like somebody took Polyjuice Potion and replaced Neville," said Dean.

"That's not even the best part," said Harry, smiling. "Neville has-"

"Oh, come on, Harry," said an embarrassed Neville. "Do you have to?"

"Do you think it's going to be a secret for very long, Neville?" pointed out Harry. To Dean and Seamus, he said, "Neville has a girlfriend." He waited for a few seconds, enjoying their shocked expressions, then added, "It's Hermione." Harry almost laughed, as their shock had deepened considerably. They gaped at Neville.

Neville looked at Harry, annoyed. "Are you going to tell everybody?"

Harry, still smiling, shook his head. "Just them, and Justin and Ernie, if I can before someone else does. But no one else, Neville, I promise."

"I have a feeling Hermione will tell a few people," pointed out Ron. "People are going to look at you funny for a few days, Neville, and then it'll be back to normal. You'll get used to it. But you can't expect us not to have some fun with it."

They spent another hour talking to Seamus and Dean about their vacations, then got ready for bed. Harry sat in bed, prepared for the next day's Defense Against the Dark Arts lessons, practiced Occlumency, and went to sleep.

He woke up at his usual time of seven the next morning, got dressed, and headed down to the Great Hall with Ron and Neville. They took their usual seats, and Hermione showed up a few minutes later.

"So, how did Parvati and Lavender react to the news, Hermione?" asked Ron.

She sighed. "I would just as soon not have told them. Like I've said, we aren't that close. But I figured they'd be offended if they heard it from someone other than me, so I told them. They were surprised."

Neville looked at Hermione skeptically. "I think you mean amazed, astonished, stunned-"

"All right, Neville," she said impatiently. "You know how I feel about you saying things like that."

"It's the truth," responded Neville. "You just don't want to admit it. You should have seen Seamus and Dean's faces. Probably everyone's going to react like that. You can't go around being upset at everyone."

"Watch me," she replied. Neville grinned.

"Hermione, you have to give people a little break," said Harry. "I mean, we were amazed, and we know Neville better than they do. Once we think about it, it makes sense, but it was just a bit of a shock. People still think of Neville as shy, so of course they're going to be surprised. I don't think they mean to insult Neville by reacting like that."

"I don't care what they mean, I just don't like it," said Hermione, obviously unmoved.

Harry saw Ron looking off into the distance. He looked where Ron was, and saw Malfoy walking toward the Slytherin table, with Pansy and Crabbe. He was surprised not to see Goyle with them, but as they sat down, he saw that Goyle was already at the table. More to Neville and Hermione than to Harry, Ron said, "Remember, Malfoy's out of his box, so we have to be careful, and monitor his movements as much as we can." Hermione and Neville nodded in agreement. Harry thought to say something to the effect that he wasn't worried about Malfoy, but the prospect of a storm of criticism stopped him.

Harry had eaten about half of his breakfast when he looked up and saw Justin and Ernie walk up. "Hey, guys," said Harry. "Have a good vacation?"

"Better than yours, according to the Prophet," said Ernie.

"Except for that, though, mine was very good," replied Harry.

"Good to see those murder attempts aren't keeping you down, Harry," said Justin. "We've decided that an attempt on your life also warrants a trip over here on our part."

"Well, you might as well just stay here and take regular seats at the table," joked Harry.

"Let's hope it doesn't come to that," said Ernie. "The rest of you have eventful vacations?"

Hermione had the look of someone who wanted to get something over with. "I have a boyfriend now," she said.

Harry watched Ernie for a reaction, but Ernie looked blank. Justin smiled. "That's great, Hermione. Who is it?"

"It's Neville," said Hermione.

Harry thought that Justin was about to accuse Hermione of pulling his leg, but Justin saw her face and realized she was serious, and so avoided her wrath. Ernie was speechless, with a look of undisguised shock. "Wow," said Justin. "That's pretty... unexpected. How did that happen?"

Hermione started to explain it to them as Harry turned back to his food. He had taken two more bites when he felt something vibrate in his robes. He took out his Galleon and saw that it was Pansy sending the emergency signal. He surreptitiously showed it to Neville, who took it from him and held it up so that Ron and Hermione could see it, but Justin and Ernie couldn't. Harry stood up and looked over at the Slytherin table, and found Pansy sitting there, talking to Malfoy, in no apparent distress. Harry suddenly realized that the signal could be a warning as well. He looked around as Hermione stood as well, followed by Ron and Neville. Justin and Ernie looked nonplused as Hermione stopped her story.

"See anything?" Harry asked the others.

"Nothing really..." said Hermione. "Oh, wait, Goyle's heading in this direction. Harry, get out your wand."

"He's probably just leaving the Hall," Harry said, dismissive of any danger.

"Harry, he's by himself! How often does that happen?" asked Hermione, very concerned. Goyle was closer, now less than ten seconds away.

"Harry, get out your damn wand!" Neville insisted urgently. Taken aback by Neville's manner, Harry did so immediately. He focused on calming his mind, just in case. He was sure that there was nothing Goyle could or would do, by himself, in front of so many people. Still, he was prepared, no longer taking Pansy's signal lightly. Ron, Hermione, and Neville already had their wands out.

Goyle reached the point where he would pass Harry and the others, then turned in their direction. No more than six feet away, Harry saw a blank look on Goyle's face as Goyle started to raise his arm. Imperius Curse, Harry instantly knew.

Ron, Hermione, and Neville didn't wait for Goyle to finish his motion. Ron shouted "Expelliarmus!" as Hermione shot off a Stunning spell, and Neville tried to wrap Goyle in ropes. Each spell bounced off, ineffective, as Goyle's arm reached full extension, held out in front of him. There was nothing in Goyle's hand, but he appeared to be holding something, and using his other hand to support it.

In a flash, Harry deduced what was happening. He realized that Goyle's arm and hand were in the familiar position, as Harry had seen in countless Muggle movies, of a person holding a weapon. He has a gun, maybe a machine gun, but it's invisible, Harry thought. He also has something that repels magic. Harry knew that any offensive spell would be useless, as would the Protection Charm, since bullets were non-magical... but they're projectiles, he realized. It's like having something thrown at you. These thoughts went through his head in a half a second, after which he instantly activated the Repulsion Charm the Aurors had taught him.

Hermione realized what was happening as well. "Harry!" she screamed. "It's a-"

She was cut off by the very loud sound of bullets being fired, but it sounded to Harry as though no more than five or six were fired before they stopped. Students in the Hall gasped in surprise as they heard the highly unfamiliar sounds. His face never changing expression, Goyle suddenly lurched back and fell, blood already pouring from the gaping wounds in his chest. The bullets had moved too quickly for Harry to see them reverse their direction at the behest of his spell, but it was obvious that they had. A few people close enough to see Goyle shrieked as Ginny came streaking up from the other end of the table, wand out. Harry felt slightly dazed. "Keep your eyes open, there could be more," said Neville. He, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny looked around warily, but saw nothing.

Professors McGonagall, Flitwick, and Vector came running over from their seats at the teachers' table. "Get Madam Pomfrey," said McGonagall to Vector, who left immediately. Harry couldn't help but think there would be little for Madam Pomfrey to do; Goyle had been holding the weapon nearly right in front of his heart, and so had suffered the wounds there.

A crowd of Gryffindors started to form, but appalled by Goyle's condition, nobody got too close. Flitwick was trying to do some basic first aid with his wand. "What happened?" asked McGonagall.

"He used a Muggle weapon called a machine gun, Professor," said Hermione, as Harry saw Justin nod in confirmation to McGonagall. "It's been made invisible, but it should be on the ground near him."

McGonagall took out her wand and waved it, and suddenly everyone could see a small, modern-looking machine gun lying near Goyle's profusely bleeding body. Harry actually thought he could see blood pulsing out of Goyle's chest. "That is what made that sound?" McGonagall asked.

Hermione nodded. "He fired it at Harry. I don't know why they hit him and not..." she trailed off, realizing.

"You used the Repulsion Charm," said McGonagall.

Harry nodded. "The Aurors taught me that," he confirmed. "I couldn't think of anything else to do. Their spells didn't work on him, I don't know why."

"He was under the Imperius Curse, Professor," said Hermione. "His eyes... I could tell."

"Voldemort?" asked Ron. Harry, Hermione, and McGonagall nodded, as Madam Pomfrey rushed into the Hall and knelt next to Goyle. She gasped at the damage and the amount of blood on the floor; Flitwick had been able to do little. She inspected Goyle for a few seconds, then stood up, facing McGonagall.

"He's dead, Minerva," she said, as those in the Hall who could hear her gasped. "Even if I'd been right here when it happened, even if we could have Disapparated him away, it wouldn't have made any difference. He lost liters of blood, his heart's been practically shredded. What kind of disgusting weapon..." She saw the machine gun next to him.

Dumbledore walked into the Hall, and in seconds had reached Harry and the others. "What happened?" he asked Harry, after making a quick survey of the scene.

"Goyle walked over," Harry said, realizing the whole Hall, now silent, was trying to listen. "We were on guard, because he's never alone, it was very unusual. He stopped right there, and made a motion that looked like an attack, lifting something up. Ron, Hermione, and Neville hit him with spells, but they bounced off. From the way he was holding his arm and hand, I realized it was a Muggle machine gun, made invisible, and he was going to fire at me. I used the Repulsion Charm, and the bullets hit him instead. Hermione and I think he was under the Imperius Curse. He had a very blank look in his eyes."

Dumbledore nodded and turned to talk to McGonagall, but Harry was not listening. He felt odd, as if he should be feeling something, but wasn't. Did I just kill someone? he wondered. Dazed, he felt Ginny take his hand.

Dumbledore faced the Hall. "Your attention, please. An attempt, I should say, another attempt, has been made on Professor Potter's life. Gregory Goyle, very likely under the Imperius Curse and directed by Voldemort, attempted to use a Muggle weapon to kill Professor Potter. Mr. Goyle was also wearing a device which negates magic for a limited time, and so could not be Disarmed, which Professor Potter's friends attempted to do. Professor Potter used the Repulsion Charm as a defensive measure, and the bullets intended for him instead struck and killed his attacker. I wish to emphasize that this was the only option available to Professor Potter, and he is in no way responsible for Mr. Goyle's death." Harry wondered if Dumbledore was saying that for his benefit, or to stop rumors from spreading.

Dumbledore paused, then continued. "There will be no classes today; the classes scheduled for today will be held at later times to be decided. Everyone will return to their quarters until further notice. Prefects, please make sure all students from your House have returned, then report to your Head of House for further instructions."

Hermione and Ron were obviously in no mood to let Harry out of their sight, which Dumbledore could tell immediately. "Harry will be safe, I promise you," Dumbledore said to them kindly. They nodded, and started herding the Gryffindors back to Gryffindor Tower. Ginny squeezed Harry's hand, whispered "It'll be okay," and reluctantly followed Ron and Hermione.

Harry glanced at Justin and Ernie, and realized they knew something the others didn't. He stepped closer to Dumbledore and whispered, "Sir, please ask Justin and Ernie to stay back a moment." Immediately, Dumbledore said, "Mr. Macmillan, Mr. Finch-Fletchley, would you remain a moment, please." Looking confused, they did so, Ernie leaving Hannah Abbott to guide the Hufflepuffs back to their living area.

All the students had gone. With Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Snape at his back, Harry faced the two. "Justin, Ernie... what I'm about to say is very serious, very important, and very confidential." He looked at them for a moment to emphasize it, then continued. "You heard me say, so the Hall could hear, that we were alerted to danger by Goyle's approach. As you've probably already figured out, that's not exactly true. You saw that we knew there was danger before we knew what it was. Hermione just recognized Goyle as that danger."

They nodded. "I was wondering," said Ernie.

"I strongly suggest," said Dumbledore, "that you wonder about it no further."

Harry nodded. "You've had to have guessed, then, that we were alerted to the danger by something else. I can't tell you what that is, and you shouldn't try to guess. If you had gone back to the Hufflepuff common room and said to others, 'They knew about the danger before they saw Goyle,' it would have gotten around, and there's every chance that the way I got that warning would go away. My life was saved by that warning, and might be again in the future. You mustn't tell anyone about this, and it's better if you don't talk about it among yourselves, in case you're overheard."

"Are you both comfortable in feeling that you can comply with Harry's request?" asked Dumbledore. Both nodded somberly. "Thank you," said Harry.

"You may now return to your common room," said Dumbledore. They turned and left without another word.

The Hall was nearly empty; only Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Snape remained. Flitwick was helping Madam Pomfrey move the body to the infirmary.

"Harry," said Dumbledore gently. "Are you all right?" Harry understood that Dumbledore was referring to his emotional state.

"I'm just kind of numb," he said. "I've never... I mean, I know I didn't kill him, exactly, but I kind of did, in a way. I just don't know what to think."

"You should think, Harry," said McGonagall, "that you did what you had to do."

"The death is tragic, regardless of the circumstances, but was unavoidable," agreed Dumbledore. "I know that you would have preferred that he been taken into custody than that he died, but that was not an option."

"But he didn't choose what he did, did he?" pressed Harry. "If he was under the Imperius Curse, he may not have wanted to kill me."

"That is indeed possible, Harry," agreed Dumbledore. "We will never know what he wanted or did not want, just that he was a pawn of Voldemort's. But you must not hold yourself responsible."

"That's the strange thing, I don't," said Harry. "I would think I would, but I don't. And I don't know if it's because it was Goyle, and if I would feel differently if it were anyone else, some random person put under the Imperius Curse. He may or may not have been willing, but his father obviously was." He paused. "Why did they place him under the Imperius Curse, though? Why not try to get him to do it willingly?"

"Because while he might have killed you willingly, Harry, he would not have done it willingly with no regard for the consequences to him. Goyle had no means of escape, and would obviously have been captured had he killed you. This was of course irrelevant to Voldemort, who clearly put him under the Imperius Curse to force him to disregard his self-interest."

"But why so soon after... wait, how long does the Imperius Curse last?"

"Yes, Harry, it lasts less than a day. From Voldemort's perspective, it had to be done now, or not at all." Dumbledore changed topics. "Harry, how were you alerted to the danger?"

"These," he said, taking the fake Galleon out of his pocket. "Hermione made them for signaling. Pansy sent me the emergency signal; we looked around and saw Goyle. She must have known it was going to happen; I'm surprised she didn't break her cover to warn me more directly."

Dumbledore shook his head. "Unless I am very much mistaken, Harry, we will discover that Pansy was not told anything. Even Mr. Malfoy and Mr. Crabbe will not have known, as from Voldemort's perspective, they did not need to. Pansy must have made the same deduction that you and Hermione did, and signaled you so you would be on the alert."

Harry nodded, impressed. If that was true, then Pansy had definitely saved his life. Though he had said that to Justin and Ernie, he hadn't been exactly sure.

"Severus, please send Miss Parkinson to my office. After she has returned, please send Mr. Malfoy, then Mr. Crabbe." Snape left the Hall, and Dumbledore motioned for Harry to accompany him to his office

A few minutes later, they were in Dumbledore's office, and there was a knock on the door. It opened, and Pansy walked in. As she had after the Quidditch match, she ran over to Harry and hugged him, holding on tightly. When she released him, he looked into her eyes. "You saved my life, Pansy. Thank you... seems like too little to say, but it's all I can think of right now." She looked back at him proudly.

"Indeed, Pansy, you have done us all a great service, and you have our profound thanks... even from those who cannot yet know what you have done," said Dumbledore. "May I ask, on the basis of what information did you signal Harry?"

"Malfoy had been talking about how strangely Goyle had been acting ever since they got back. He mentioned it a little in the common room last night, and then again as we were heading to breakfast. Goyle wasn't hanging out with Malfoy or Crabbe, or doing anything he usually did. Malfoy obviously had no idea what was happening, or else he might not have said anything, even to me. When I saw Goyle at breakfast, he just looked so strange. Then he just got up, without a word, and walked away. When I saw him heading in Harry's direction, I knew it could look like he was just leaving the Hall, but he never leaves that way.

"I seriously thought about breaking cover, even though I didn't know what was going on. But I realized I wouldn't be able to do anything useful, and anyway, I could be wrong, and then my cover would be blown. So I decided to send the signal, and pray that Harry made the right conclusions."

"In that case," said Harry, "the only smart thing I did was to show the Galleon to the others. I thought it was nothing, but they were smart enough to take it seriously."

"So, had Pansy not signaled you, Harry, you would surely be dead," said Dumbledore. "You would not have noticed Goyle's approach, and he surely would have been able to fire on you before you could have known what was going on. Even if you had reacted quickly, you would have chosen a conventional spell, such as your friends did, which would have been ineffective."

Harry nodded, and took Pansy's hand. "Thank you. I know I already said it, but I'll say it again. I guess I should admit that I shouldn't have told you all those times to come out in the open."

"It was because you were worried, Harry, I understand," she said, squeezing his hand. "But I'm glad you said that."

"Sir," Harry said to Dumbledore, "there's one thing I don't understand. We have to assume that Voldemort figures he's got three shots at me-Goyle, Crabbe, and Malfoy. Now there's two left. Why didn't they just train Goyle as a Death Eater like they did with Nott? It seems like they could have put him to better use."

Dumbledore shook his head. "As we have seen, Harry, Voldemort has no regard for the interests of the people he uses, ally or enemy. He could have put anyone under the Imperius Curse, but if he abducted a Hogwarts student to do so, the student's disappearance would have been noticed, as would the change in their behavior. It had to be someone whose relatives were willing. As for training him, that takes quite a while; it is not something that can be done in two weeks. Even you, with great natural talent, still have a ways to go to reach Auror-level skill, though you did accomplish much over the six days of your training. While many Death Eaters do not have Auror-level skill, Mr. Goyle had below-average magical talent, and was no doubt considered unsuitable to be made a Death Eater. Voldemort would have considered him a low-value resource. The only thing that made him useful at all was that he was a Hogwarts student.

"What Voldemort did, unfortunately, must be seen-apart from the terrible human cost-as tactically and strategically sound, from his point of view. To have Mr. Goyle use a machine gun was a brilliant idea, given the circumstances. You could not Disapparate, and Fawkes could not have helped you. You would not be expecting it, and once Goyle was given a means of defense against most common spells, you had one and only one defense. The plan was almost perfect; so many elements were needed to foil it. Had the Aurors not taught you the Repulsion Charm, had Pansy not signaled you, had your friends not been assiduous in your defense, had you not been Muggle-raised... if even one of those were absent, you would be dead. From Voldemort's point of view, the plan had a low cost and a high probability of success."

Harry chuckled; Pansy looked at him in surprise. "I was just thinking about how angry Voldemort must be right now. He must think I'm charmed or something. I can imagine him thinking, 'What do I have to do to kill him?' There is some satisfaction in him feeling that way. He won't have another chance for months."

"Not necessarily, Harry," pointed out Pansy. "Even if we assume that Crabbe is no more useful to Voldemort than Goyle was, there's still Malfoy. We have to assume that he's getting instructions from Voldemort. He's going to be very careful, whatever he does. I just hope I can get him to confide in me. I'm very glad I didn't end up breaking my cover. You still need me."

Harry could not argue with that. He said, "Is there any chance, sir, that Pansy could be suspected from what happened today? I mean, we were on the alert before there was any reason to be."

Pansy opened her mouth to protest, but Dumbledore spoke first. "It is a legitimate question, Pansy, one that must be considered," he said. "It was quite clever of you, Harry, to say what you said earlier about Mr. Goyle's approach being unusual. It is perhaps a small stretch, but given the recent attempts on your life, no one-including Mr. Malfoy-will think it terribly strange that your friends were on their guard at seeing something unusual, and reacted defensively. More importantly, no suspicion will fall on Pansy, because there was nothing for her to know. A person cannot be suspected of leaking information they did not have, and Mr. Malfoy will know she did not have it, because he did not. There is no reason for anyone to suspect her."

He paused, and gave Pansy a grave look. "Pansy, I am sure that you would wish me to expel Mr. Malfoy and Mr. Crabbe, even in the absence of a reason to do so. It pains me that I feel I cannot do this. I know that I am putting Harry at risk, and also putting you at risk, for the sake of abstract principles. But they are important ones."

To Harry's surprise, she nodded. "I understand, sir. Do you know about the notebooks that Harry bought for Hermione and I?" Dumbledore shook his head, and she explained. Then she said, "I've asked Hermione some questions about what you said last time, about what happens when you ignore principles because of fear. She said Harry asked her about it, too. She told me a lot of stuff, gave some good examples of the kind of thing that can happen. She'd make a very good History of Magic teacher. But I understand a little better why you do this the way you do. I can't say it doesn't frustrate me, but given how much you love Harry, sir, it's very noble of you to do it this way."

"Thank you, Pansy, I appreciate that," said Dumbledore. "One always wishes one's actions to be understood in the proper context, especially when the context is a subtle and nuanced one such as this. I also wish to express my own deep appreciation and admiration for what you are doing. I know it is very difficult." Harry nodded in agreement.

She looked at him with concern. "I'll just be happy when it's all over, when you're not in danger anymore, at least at Hogwarts."

"So will I, believe me," agreed Harry.

Dumbledore rose. "You should be returning to the Slytherin area now, Pansy. Of course, you understand that you should give the impression that I simply asked you what you knew about Mr. Goyle's actions, as I will be asking Mr. Malfoy and Mr. Crabbe. Being seen as under suspicion by me will assist your cover, though it will not make you popular around the school."

She gave him a wan smile. "You mean, it'll make me even more disliked and unpopular than I already am. Believe me, that's not anything I'm worried about." She turned to Harry. "Harry, when I send the emergency signal, please, always take it very seriously. Assume that your life is under threat, and take every precaution you can. I care about you so much..."

Harry nodded, suddenly feeling guilty about not having considered Goyle much of a threat. "I will, I promise," he said. She gave him a last concerned look, nodded, and left.

"You should head back to Gryffindor Tower, Harry," said Dumbledore. "After lunch, students will be able to move freely again."

"I understand. When will my classes be rescheduled, sir?"

"Most of the classes will be made up on Saturday, but I was vague about that earlier because you have commitments with the Aurors on Saturdays. You should consult with Professor McGonagall about what times are possible, both for you and your first years."

"Thank you, sir. I'll talk to her."

"There are two more things, Harry. After today's events, combined with what happened in the department store, I think it highly likely that your friends will want to accompany you and monitor your movements at all times. They will want to be your security detail inside Hogwarts. I would suggest that you resist your natural inclination to resist their help. It will make them feel better, in addition to what practical use it may have. This is almost as hard on them as it is on you."

"I understand, sir. I admit I hadn't thought of it that way. I've been too busy feeling sorry for myself. What was the other thing?"

"I wished to thank you for your Christmas presents. They were most thoughtful."

Harry smiled. He had bought Dumbledore a bag of lemon drops and five pairs of thick woolen socks. He was pleased that Dumbledore was happy. "I thought you might like lemon drops, since that's this year's password."

"Yes, I have always had a fondness for them," Dumbledore agreed. "In fact, I recall having one in front of four Privet Drive, the day I left you there. And the socks are very comfortable."

"Now you can look into the Mirror of Erised and see yourself as you will be right then," Harry joked.

"With sufficiently warm feet, anyway," agreed Dumbledore. "I think you knew that what I said was meant both to be humorous and to deflect your question. But I will tell you now, in all seriousness, what I would see if I looked into that mirror today. I would see you, as an adult, surrounded by a loving wife and family, fulfilled, happy, and safe."

Harry felt a lump in his throat. "Thank you..." he almost automatically said 'sir,' but changed his mind. "Thank you, Albus. That means a lot to me."

"I am very glad, Harry," Dumbledore replied. Harry nodded and left.

Harry walked back to Gryffindor Tower alone, reflecting that such solitude was about to become uncommon. "Chicken curry," he said to the portrait, which swung open. He climbed in, and was quickly greeted by the first years, who seemed to have been waiting at the portrait hole for him. Andrea Creevey hugged him, after which all the other first year girls did as well. Some of them thanked him again for the cards. He spent a few minutes talking to them and other interested Gryffindors about the morning's attack, and the one during vacation. They were all obviously very impressed that he had captured two Death Eaters, regardless of his emphasis on Neville's role. After fifteen minutes, the crowd dispersed, and he headed over to the fireplace, where Ron, Hermione, Neville, and Ginny had saved a spot for him. He sat down between Hermione and Ginny. Fawkes joined them, perching on Harry's shoulder.

Hermione leaned over and hugged him by the shoulders, leaning her head against his. "Harry... oh, your life is so hard..." She looked into his eyes, wanting to convey her support. He took her closest hand and gripped it in appreciation.

He looked up and caught a glance at Neville, who was also looking at Harry supportively. Harry suddenly realized that this was the first time that Hermione had been physically affectionate with him since becoming Neville's girlfriend. He looked at her quizzically, and glanced at Neville. Hermione understood his meaning.

"It's okay, Harry, don't worry," she said, not moving her head from his shoulder. "I've already talked about this with Neville. You need our support, and I'm not going to stop hugging you or whatever, especially after you almost just got killed. Neville's not going to be jealous. He knows he's the one I want."

Neville nodded his confirmation. "Really, it's okay, Harry. I know she's like that, it's how she is. Remember, she was like that with me too, before we got together." He paused. "Besides, it works both ways, this isn't just something that she can do that I can't. She's told me that I can also be as physically affectionate with you as I want."

Harry burst out laughing, as did Ron, Ginny, and a few other Gryffindors in hearing range. Hermione leaned towards Neville and playfully pushed him lightly on his face. "Ginny! I said Ginny!" she said.

"Oh, Ginny! I thought you said Harry," Neville said, to more laughter. "But both are okay, right?"

"No, Neville, you have to pick one," Hermione said, going along with the joke.

"Hmmm... tough choice," said Neville, smiling.

"I sincerely hope not," said Harry. "Ginny's much cuter than I am."

"Why, thank you, Harry," she said. "It reminds me of when you said that it was better that I kissed you than Neville did, and now you say I'm cuter than you. I'll be over the moon someday when you actually compare me favorably to a female."

After he finished laughing, Harry said, "Sorry, Ginny. I didn't mean to... oh, Hermione, what's that phrase, it means that a compliment is so weak that it's-"

"To damn with faint praise," she supplied.

"Yes, thank you, I didn't mean to do that. I think you're very cute, period. Is that better?"

She looked at him, seeming to be trying to find out whether he really meant it. Then she said, "Yes, that's better."

Harry felt very content, considering what had just happened, and realized why. He said, "Thanks, Neville. I really needed a good laugh."

"Any time," Neville said. "Any time I can think of something funny, anyway. And Harry..." Neville paused and looked at him very seriously. "You may not like this, but we're going to be staying as close to you as we can. It's obvious that you're not totally safe in the school, especially as long as Malfoy and Crabbe are still here. We know you can take care of yourself really well, and we might be more annoying than helpful, but-"

"Neville," said Harry, and Neville stopped talking. "I understand why, and I'm not going to argue. Of course it's not my preference, but I know it'll be helpful. I mean, Pansy was the main one who saved my life, but you did too. You took Goyle seriously when I didn't, and your attacks on him helped me realize that offensive spells wouldn't work. I might not have gotten the charm going in time otherwise. So, I'd be a fool to act like what you could do might not help."

"No offense, Harry, " said Ron with a hint of a smile, "but there have been times when-"

"Yes, thank you, Ron," said Harry dryly. "I appreciate that."

"I appreciate your attitude about this, Harry," said Hermione, a little more seriously. "It's surprisingly sensible. We thought we would have to have a big fight with you."

Harry wondered whether that would have happened if not for Dumbledore's warning. "Looks like Neville's timing was pretty good," he said. "After you've just helped save my life doesn't seem like a good time to be telling you that you shouldn't help me. And Neville... you can still come over here and be physically affectionate with me if you want to."

The others all laughed. Neville got up, walked around the backs of the chairs to behind Harry, and put his hands on Harry's shoulders, trying to get around Fawkes. He patted Harry's shoulders a few times, saying "Thanks for not being a pain about this," then stayed around to pet Fawkes.

"Seems like the least I can do," said Harry.

"I have an idea," said Ron. "We've still got lots of time to kill, even before lunch. Why don't Neville and Harry practice dueling a bit, then you two can start teaching us the stuff the Aurors taught you, about real dueling."

Neville and Harry agreed, and they got up and started. Before long, half the people in the common room were watching, or trying to learn what Harry and Neville had learned. The rest of the morning passed very quickly.

As the days passed, Harry found his protection to be less annoying than he had thought it would be. Since his friends were with him much of the time anyway, he was often able to forget that they were there for another reason. A few things were different, such as that now when the Gryffindor team had a Quidditch practice, Neville and Hermione flew around the perimeter of the Quidditch pitch, alert for anything unusual. No one's schedule was free enough to watch Harry during the classes he taught, so Hermione contented herself with charming Harry's map, and the others as well, so that if Crabbe or Malfoy came within ten yards of Harry from eight o'clock to twelve o'clock the maps would make a loud noise.

Pansy was pleased that the others were taking such an active role in keeping Harry safe. She reported that Goyle's death had only intensified Malfoy's desire to kill Harry, but that other that expressing his wish for Harry's death, Malfoy was saying nothing about how it might be accomplished, or what he was thinking of doing. "Somebody must've given him a lecture about security," Pansy had said to Harry. "He used to talk more, but now he isn't saying anything." She added that she was being careful not to appear to be prying too hard.

She also said that she felt it would not be easy for Malfoy to do anything obvious, because the dynamic in Slytherin had changed even more. She said that only she and Crabbe made any pretense anymore of supporting Malfoy. The seventh years kept their distance from him, she said, and most of the fifth years and younger students were outspoken in their opposition to him, even to the point of the first years keeping him and Crabbe under surveillance in unsubtle ways. Harry hoped they wouldn't be in danger from that, but Pansy assured him that there was strength in numbers, and that Malfoy no longer cared about what anyone thought of him. She said he knew that if he put one toe out of line he would be expelled, and didn't want to risk it.

Harry noticed that Hermione spent less time around him than the others did; she was often gone, and he assumed she was in the library, because of her heavy class load. Ginny made up for it by spending much more time around him, causing him to wonder about the situation with her fifth year friends. She told him that she had a talk with them and told them that while she wanted to spend time with them, that Harry's protection had to be a priority. She said they understood and didn't take offense, which Harry was glad to hear. "They want you kept alive too, Harry," Ginny had told him. "Especially after Goyle... they saw that with their own eyes. I think attempts on your life that they read or hear about are one thing, but seeing it is something else. It's not only them, but all the Gryffindors, and a lot from the other houses. I think everyone's keeping their eyes open for anything that seems like a threat. So, I'd say you've got most of the school looking out for you." Harry found it hard to imagine that he could be in danger considering that, but he knew enough not to be overconfident, that Voldemort's reach was often longer that he thought.

Harry thoroughly enjoyed his Saturday Auror training sessions, and was making substantial progress. His dueling was getting better, to the point where he was able to fight a few of the Aurors to a virtual draw; a few of the bouts got to be as long as five minutes. He also continued improving with the anti-Disapparation field; as of mid-February, there were four Aurors who could not Disapparate once he put up the field. The four started referring to themselves as the "Potter club," and were sure that their membership would grow quickly. Naturally, a continuing betting pool started, centered around guessing which Aurors would be the next to join the club.

On a rainy Friday evening in mid-February, Harry, Ron, Neville, and Ginny were sitting in the Gryffindor common room, doing homework and talking occasionally. All except Neville were a bit on edge because the second Quidditch matches were to be held the next day; Gryffindor would play Hufflepuff first, then Ravenclaw would play Slytherin.

"I just hope it stops raining," Ron was saying. "Bad enough to practice in rain..."

Neville nodded. "I don't see how you can play in rain," he said. "It's hard enough for Hermione and I just to do our patrols when you practice in the rain. We can't see a whole lot."

"We'll beat them, whether it rains or not," said Ginny confidently.

"I think so too, of course, but they're pretty good," pointed out Ron. "Remember, they were pasting Ravenclaw when Cho got the Snitch last time. If that was any indication, I'll have my hands full."

"Don't worry, Ron, we'll try to keep possession long enough to give you a rest," said Ginny. "Besides, the Ravenclaw Keeper isn't as good as you are. He let in twelve out of twenty-one attempts. You only let in one out of eight. They won't be getting twelve goals off of us."

Ron turned a bit red, and said nothing as Ginny smiled at him, partly with pride and partly enjoying his embarrassment. Harry exchanged a smile with her. "That's right, Ron," he said. "In fact, I think it's going to be a shutout. I bet they don't get a single goal off of you."

With an annoyed smile, Ron gave Harry a 'be serious' look. Neville added, "If we were Aurors, there'd already be a betting pool on the outcome of the game, and probably the score as well." Harry chuckled.

"I'm pretty sure that gambling isn't allowed at Hogwarts," pointed out Ron. "I think I read it in the rules."

"You think? You're not sure?" asked Ginny.

Ron shrugged. "When you become a prefect, you're supposed to read the Hogwarts rule book, and memorize as much of it as you can. I read most of it, but I didn't bother trying to remember anything, because-"

"You knew that Hermione would be around, and you could always ask her," finished Ginny. Ron nodded. "What are you going to do once you graduate, and she's not around all the time to remember stuff for you?"

Harry and Neville chuckled as Ron looked up with mild indignation. "I remember the stuff I need to remember," he said. "It's just that she remembers unimportant stuff really well. I don't put much of a priority on remembering whether gambling is allowed at Hogwarts or not."

"Ron," she said, "what's the record for the fastest capture of a Snitch in professional Quidditch?"

"Three and a half seconds, of course. Why?"

She smirked. "Seems like you remember unimportant stuff just fine."

He rolled his eyes. "C'mon, Ginny, that's one of the most famous Quidditch records there is. It's right up there with Bruno Burnansky's streak of sixty-two consecutive successful goal attempts, or Paolo Renai's twenty-five consecutive captures of the Snitch. If you're a Quidditch fan, you can't not know that."

She was unmoved. "I bet there's lots more trivial stuff about Quidditch that you can remember just fine," she said. Ron smiled a little and didn't answer.

Harry heard a murmur spread throughout the room, and looked up. He saw Dumbledore's golden dog approach him, stand on its two hind legs, and lick his face. The other three chuckled, as they all knew what it meant. "How did it get in here?" Harry asked.

"It just seemed to walk through the wall," said Katie Bell, sitting across the room from him. "I happened to be looking in that direction. What is it, anyway?"

"It's from Dumbledore, it means he wants to see me," he explained. He gave the dog a quick hug, then got up. "It seems to really like you," she said, smiling.

"I like it, too," he answered. "Funny, I never thought to wonder whether it was a he or a she. I guess it doesn't need to have a gender."

"Or, maybe it's male because Dumbledore is," suggested Ginny.

Harry shrugged as he walked across the room to the portrait hole. As it opened, the dog leaped up and through the hole. Harry followed it to Dumbledore's office, where the door was already open.

"Harry, thank you," greeted Dumbledore. Harry sat down opposite him. "Are you all ready for the Quidditch match?"

Harry knew that Dumbledore was just being polite, mentioning something that he knew Harry would be thinking about. "Yes, sir," he said. "We were just talking about it in the common room." He went on to relate the conversation.

Dumbledore chuckled. "Yes, the Aurors are well known for that," he agreed. "And Ron is correct, gambling is not allowed at Hogwarts. Not so much because it is morally objectionable, but because it is considered an adult vice. One must employ a certain amount of self-control, which even some adults fail to do." Harry thought of Ludo Bagman.

"I wanted to let you know, Harry, that tomorrow will be a Hogsmeade day." Harry raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Not a weekend," Dumbledore continued, "but just a day. It has been decided that until Voldemort is no longer a threat, students will still be able to visit Hogsmeade periodically, but the days will be one at a time, and not announced in advance. There will also be heavy security. The Hogsmeade visit will be announced after the second Quidditch match. Of course, people will have been unable to plan their day, but I felt that this was a reasonable balance of security and normalcy."

"I'm glad to hear that, sir," said Harry. He didn't think it was right that the students should never be able to go to Hogsmeade. "It sounds like there shouldn't be any problems. I'll be going too, of course."

Dumbledore nodded. "I hoped, and to be honest, expected, that you would. The symbolism would be unfortunate if you did not. It remains to be seen how many will choose to go. When I make the announcement, I will emphasize the heavy security."

"I think a lot will go," said Harry. "I think they'll see it the same way I do."

"It would not surprise me," Dumbledore agreed. "Much of the school has come to see things the same way you do. They certainly have embraced the challenge of your security."

"It's kind of ironic, really," Harry mused. "I can take care of myself better than any other student, and I have everyone looking out for me anyway."

"You can take care of yourself better than most teachers, too, I suspect," said Dumbledore. "That is not exactly the issue, of course. Which reminds me, Kingsley mentioned to me the existence of the 'Potter club.' You must be proud."

"Yes, and kind of embarrassed for the members," he admitted. "I hope they're not embarrassed, but they don't seem to be."

"There is no reason they should be, Harry, as you are so clearly exceptional. Kingsley said that he expects that by the time you are twenty, perhaps sooner, the whole complement of Aurors will be members."

Harry shook his head in wonder; that was quite a statement. "Sir, that reminds me, I was wondering... I've gotten so much stronger this year, I'm really surprised. I'm way stronger than I ever expected to be. Why do you think that is? Am I that good, just naturally? Is it from the curse when I was a baby, did I get power equivalent to Voldemort's? I mean, I've been working really hard, but this is a bit much."

"Yes, Harry, I must admit, even I have been surprised at the speed of your progress. I can only guess at the reasons, of course. Firstly, your motivation is at its highest, both because of the attempts on your life and your knowledge of the prophecy. Such pressure, burdensome though it is, will tend to bring out the full extent of your talent. Secondly, the attempts on your life and the Voldemort dream attacks not only increased your motivation, but your ability to focus, which has always been a strength of yours. You recall what I said in the first week's Defense Against the Dark Arts lesson about the importance of mental elements of spellcasting, and your experience is tending to give evidence of that. Your ability to focus is highly developed, better than that of almost all wizards."

Harry, smiling, cut in with, "I can think of at least one who it's not better than."

Dumbledore smiled back, and continued. "Thirdly, it is well established that the years between the ages of sixteen and eighteen are, for wizards, the time during which one's natural skills develop most strongly. And lastly, and I think most importantly, it is not only your focus which is important, but your type of focus. During the Voldemort trial, you developed the habit of focusing on love, and that is what got you through that, and was the basis for your new spell. Your new spell is based on the energy of love. But I suspect that you have used that energy not only for that spell, but for all your spells."

Harry nodded. "I just got in the habit of doing that. It's kind of unconscious now, but at some point, I just started focusing on that particular energy whenever I did magic. So, you think that's what makes my magic so strong?"

"I am almost certain of it. It has given me a new perspective, in fact. You know, of course, that despite my age I am considered to be one of the strongest wizards in the world. I have always simply assumed that it was a natural ability, combined with much study. But your experience is teaching me something: I am now realizing that my own magic has always been based on the energy of love, and I simply did not know it, at least in those terms. But it makes perfect sense."

Harry was impressed, and had to agree. "It does make sense... especially considering that I only have this because of you. You taught me what love was, when I had no idea. I'm not surprised that your magic is based on it as well. Also, you're the only one who can also do my spell, and you learned it very quickly."

"As we have noted, love is a 'power the Dark Lord knows not,'" agreed Dumbledore.

"But I still don't understand something, then... remember, it's 'the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord...' I assume we agree that the word 'one' means I'm the only one?" Dumbledore nodded. "But then it can't be just that my magic is from the energy of love, because yours is like that, too. Wouldn't that suggest that whatever it is about me is something that I can do and you can't ?"

Dumbledore considered. "Perhaps, but it may also be that it is something that you will do that I will not. For example, you are the one who discovered the spell. We do not know whether I could have done it, just that I did not. It is very difficult to say.

"You realize what this means, Harry. Considering all your progress, and all that has happened, I find it highly likely that a time will come when you are as strong a wizard as I am."

Harry was dumbstruck. He had never thought about it in those terms. It just seemed like an unreachable goal. "That's... an amazing thought, sir," he finally managed. "It's hard to believe. But to tell you the truth, I'd rather be as good a person as you are than as strong a wizard."

Dumbledore chuckled. "Thank you, Harry. But you may already be that. I talked to Molly after vacation, and she was positively smitten with you. It has been a long time since I made anybody as happy as you made her with your card and your affection."

"I'm glad I made her so happy, but that's not what I meant. You have lots of compassion, you care about everybody, whether they deserve it or not. You wouldn't have..." Harry paused, thinking. "I never felt especially bad about Goyle's death. I mean, I wasn't happy about it, but... it just didn't affect me. I watched him die, you'd think it would. I just think you would have reacted differently."

"You feel badly about yourself that you reacted as you did," observed Dumbledore. Harry nodded. "You should not castigate yourself for that. The circumstances were highly unusual. You had just recovered from a very emotionally trying incident less than two weeks prior, and then you were subjected to yet another attempt. I do not wish to overemphasize the point, but you are still only sixteen years old. I cannot say how I would have reacted to such a trial at the age of sixteen, but I doubt that I would have handled it any better than you have. I have not always been as I am now, Harry. To expect such a thing of yourself is not reasonable."

Harry wondered if this was how Ernie had felt after Hogsmeade; whether the expectation was reasonable or not, he felt it anyway. He also wondered if he would have this expectation of himself if not for Dumbledore's example. "I know... I just... feel like maybe I'm not such a good person if I'm not sorry that he died. I mean, I wish it hadn't happened, but... you know what I mean."

"You are already a very good person. He tried to kill you. He may have been under the Imperius Curse, but you and I both believe that he would have been willing to do it voluntarily if he thought he could have gotten away. We can still pity him, as he may have ended up very differently had his father not been a Death Eater. But given the totality of the situation, again, you are expecting too much of yourself."

"Thank you, sir. I appreciate that you think I'm a good person anyway."

"You're welcome. On another subject, I thought you should know that Voldemort's followers have done what we assumed they would at some point: they have started killing Muggles. Three were killed earlier today. We have little doubt that there will be more."

Harry shook his head in disgust. "What's the point of killing random Muggles?"

Dumbledore looked at him sadly. "They simply enjoy killing. From their point of view, killing Muggles is safer than killing wizards, who could perhaps fight back."

"That's more incentive for me to keep up the pace of my training," Harry said. "The sooner Voldemort's stopped, the more people, especially Muggles, will stay alive."

Dumbledore nodded somberly. "Very true. In a way, it is fortunate that this did not start sooner than it did. I would have expected it to."

They were both silent for a moment. Then Harry said, "So, is the magic-detection field going to be up tomorrow?"

"Of course; I know you are thinking of what is best for Pansy. Yes, we will maintain the fiction that it was a standard security measure."

"Good. Thank you, sir." He stood to leave. "I'll see you tomorrow." Dumbledore inclined his head, and Harry left. He felt he had much more to think about now than tomorrow's Quidditch match.

Fortunately for the Quidditch players, Saturday morning was sunny, if cold. Harry sat with the team in the Great Hall, Neville and Hermione nearby. They probably would be anyway, Harry thought, but he knew they were here now as his security detail. Halfway through his breakfast, he saw three familiar figures enter the Great Hall and head towards him. He smiled and got up to greet them.

Tonks said hello to Harry, then moved off to greet Neville as Winston Clark approached, proffering his hand. "I haven't been here in quite a few years," he said as Harry shook it. "Looks much the same, really. Peeves still here?"

"Yes," Harry chuckled, "still causing mayhem. Which is sort of his job, I suppose."

"Good. Actually, I asked for this assignment, mostly so I could say hello to my daughter. I assume she'll be along when she sees us over here."

Harry shook the hand of the third Auror, a dark-haired wizard in his late twenties named Teddy Wirshire. "Hi, Teddy," said Harry. "Thanks for coming."

"No problem, Harry. Like Winston says, it's good to see the place again."

"I assume you three are also on Hogsmeade duty?"

Teddy nodded. "Ten of us altogether, including two in the Three Broomsticks at all times. But no butterbeer for us, I'm afraid."

"Why not?" asked Harry, curious. It seemed harmless enough, if they wanted to.

"Well, we can't be running off to the bathroom all the time," Teddy explained, as Winston nodded.

"You have to go sometime," Harry said reasonably.

"Didn't they tell you, Harry?" asked Tonks. "One of the requirements to be an Auror is that you have to be able to not go to the bathroom for eight hours at a time." Winston and Teddy laughed, but in a way that Harry felt suggested they thought there was some truth to what she said.

"Hmmm... maybe I didn't think through this business of wanting to be an Auror as well as I should have," said Harry, to more laughter.

Winston and Teddy stepped over to say hello to Neville, as Tonks approached Hermione and put a friendly arm on her shoulder. "Hermione. You did good," Tonks said simply.

Hermione smiled happily. "Thanks, Tonks. I think so too." Harry saw Neville blush as he heard this.

"Dad!" Harry heard, and turned to see Helen Clark run up and hug her father. "Hi, honey," he said, smiling. "He still your best teacher?"

"Of course," she said, as if to even ask the question was silly. "You should see all the stuff I can do now. I can't wait to show you over the summer. But I'm glad you're here, I get to have my two favorite men here together." The other Aurors and Harry's friends chuckled.

Winston affected a worried look. "I'm kind of afraid to ask which is your most favorite. I mean, I don't have a Chocolate Frog card."

Harry and the others laughed, and Helen looked at her father, annoyed. "Da-ad," she said, stretching the word into two syllables. Winston smiled and mussed her hair.

Ron stood up. "Time to go, everyone," he said. The team stood, and Harry moved off to join them, waving goodbye to the Aurors and Helen. They walked the length of the Gryffindor table, receiving cheers, and headed out towards the changing rooms.

There was a casual feeling in the changing areas. Ron looked tense, but not as tense as before the last game. When it was time to head out to the pitch, Ron simply said, "Okay, let's go do it," and they walked out toward the pitch.

They lined up on one side of the pitch, the Hufflepuffs on the other. The crowd finished filing in and taking their seats as Harry looked around. He could already see the three Aurors on their brooms, circling the pitch.

Dumbledore stepped forward and made a few announcements, including another mention of the magic-detection field. He also said that there would be an announcement at the end of the second match, and asked that no one leave until the announcement had been made. Madam Hooch then stepped forward, as the players moved to assume their standard starting positions, ready to take off.

"Captains, shake hands," she said. Ron offered a friendly hand to the Hufflepuff captain, who returned the handshake in the same spirit. It's so nice when we're not playing the Slytherins, Harry thought. He started focusing on the Snitch, even though it had not been released yet.

Madam Hooch blew her whistle, and the Quaffle, the Bludgers, and the Snitch were all released as the players kicked off the ground, racing into the air. As he took off, Harry thought he had seen where the Snitch had gone. He shot off ahead and to the right, rather than straight up as usual.

Colin started his commentary. "Gryffindor takes possession right away, Creevey with the Quaffle, passes to Ginny, back to Creevey. Potter staying near the ground. Creevey maneuvering for position, passes behind him to Bell, who races for-POTTER HAS THE SNITCH!", Colin practically screamed, as the whistle blew and Harry flew across the field triumphantly, the Snitch in his hand. "Gryffindor wins, by a score of one hundred and fifty to zero, in a match that took... twelve seconds! Unbelievable!" The crowd was cheering, but it was a bit subdued, as if they couldn't quite believe it either.

Harry flew over to a stunned Ron, who was heading back towards the field. They landed together, and Harry slapped Ron on the back. "I said it would be a shutout, didn't I?" Harry said, smiling broadly.

Ron smiled back, still amazed. "Yeah, well, I was kind of looking forward to, you know, playing Quidditch. But hey, I'll take the win, believe me."

"Very sporting of you, Ron," replied Harry as the rest of the team moved in to congratulate him, with backslaps, hugs from Ginny and Katie, and expressions of amazement. They started to walk off the field, chatting happily.

"Harry Potter, would you come up here, please?" asked Colin, to a few scattered laughs from the crowd. Ron said, "Hey, it should have been me! I held them to no goals, after all!" The rest of the team laughed as Harry headed towards where Colin was sitting.

Harry walked up the steps and sat down next to Colin. "The Star of the Match, Gryffindor Seeker Harry Potter," he said. "Harry, I think I speak for everyone here when I say, how in the world did you do that?"

"I'm not sure, Colin, to tell you the truth. When the Snitch was let out, I thought I got a glimpse of its direction. It was really quick, like a tenth of a second, I was barely sure I saw it at all. But in Quidditch, a glimpse is often all you get, so I just took off in the direction I thought I saw it go. Then a few seconds later, I saw it again, and this time I was able to keep it in my sights."

"Amazing, Harry. And is there anything you'd like to say to your fellow students, who you've just deprived of an hour's entertainment?"

Harry laughed. "Yes, Ron mentioned that he had been looking forward to playing. But I reminded him that this is a shutout for him, so he's not complaining. Other than that, I don't know what to tell you, Colin."

"Did it enter your mind before the game to make any unusual effort to catch the Snitch very early on?"

"No, I had intended to fly straight up and do my usual search. I just grabbed at what small opportunity I had, when I got it."

"Not so small an opportunity after all, Harry. Is there anything else you'd like to say, before I let you go?"

"Yes, Colin... I'd like to welcome the new Slytherin Seeker, Thomas Dalton, to the pitch and wish him well. It's too bad that I couldn't have played against him last time." The crowd laughed at the implied comment, as the Slytherins applauded for Thomas. "And I'd like to say thank you to my friend Cho Chang for her support of me last time we were here. I want to wish both of them good luck." The crowd applauded.

"Well, they can't both have good luck, Harry, but I know what you mean," said Colin, again getting a mild laugh. "Do you have a rooting interest in the next match? I mean, if Slytherin wins, it would put Gryffindor in a commanding position to win the Quidditch Cup. Gryffindor could lose the next match to Ravenclaw, but still win the Cup, if the goal differential favored Gryffindor, as it does substantially at this moment. Your thoughts?"

Harry knew that, whatever his true feelings, he couldn't state a preference, so he settled for something close to the truth. "You're right, Colin, we could win the Cup like that, but I'd hate to win the Cup by losing the match next time. We'd only feel really good about it if we won the match as well, and I don't want to root for someone else to lose so we can win. If we're the best team, we should win all three matches. So, no, from the point of view of winning the Cup, I don't have a preference for who wins the next match."

"Quite a sporting spirit there. The Star of the Match, Harry Potter. Thank you, Harry," Colin finished, as the crowd applauded, even most Hufflepuffs. Harry headed back down to the field.

As he crossed the field, he encountered the Ravenclaw team starting to take their positions prior to the match. He greeted them as he saw them, and stopped with Cho. "That was very nice of you, Harry," she said. "Both about me, and not having a preference. But, honestly, you'd prefer Slytherin won, wouldn't you?"

He shrugged. "I didn't want to state a preference publicly, it wouldn't have seemed right. But honestly, either outcome is okay with me. If Slytherin wins, Colin's right, it's good for us. But if you win, I'll be happy for my friend, the Ravenclaw Seeker. And really, I'll be rooting for you. I was telling the truth, we should have to win next time to win the Cup. I don't mind that."

She smiled brilliantly, and Harry was momentarily reminded of why he had been so attracted to her. "Thank you, Harry, I appreciate it. It means a lot to me that you'll be rooting for me." He nodded and smiled, and headed back to his teammates.

"Very diplomatic of you, Harry," greeted Katie as he joined them. Harry realized that she was referring to the interview, not his conversation with Cho, which Katie couldn't have heard.

"It was more or less the truth," he answered. "I'm not going to be happy unless we win next time."

"Well, I'm not very diplomatic," said Ron. "I want Slytherin to win, but not pick anything up on the goal differential. That way, even if Slytherin beats Hufflepuff next time-which they won't-we'd very likely beat them on goal differential. And we've got a huge goal differential lead over Ravenclaw, no way they're making that up today, or next time. So a Slytherin win means the Cup is nearly ours."

Harry could understand that, but asked, "Are you really going to be happy if we win the Cup even though we lose the match next time?"

"Let's put it this way, Harry, I'll be happier to lose the match but win the Cup than I'll be if we lose the match and lose the Cup. I mean, I hate to admit it, but Hermione was a little bit right about luck. I mean, twelve seconds... that was because you're a good Seeker, no question. But it almost has to happen eventually that the Snitch pops up near the other Seeker and we lose. The percentages are going to catch up with us. So, I'd rather be in as good a position as possible if that happens."

"Well, let's just hope that the percentages stay with us for four more matches, anyway," responded Harry. Saying it made him a bit nostalgic in advance, knowing that he would only play Quidditch at Hogwarts four more times.

They watched the players for both teams get set and the captains shake hands. Madam Hooch blew the whistle, and they took off. Harry listened to Colin's commentary.

"And they're off, Ravenclaw takes possession, it's Corner with the Quaffle, passes to Boot, back to Corner, who dives a bit to avoid a Crabbe Bludger. Corner passes back to-intercepted by Warrington, over to Pucey, who has a clear shot, he shoots and... saved by Hilton! Nice save there by the Ravenclaw Keeper, who passes it out to his teammates. Corner has it again, he's being heavily defended, can't find an open Chaser, he has to back off and circle back for a better chance. He approaches again, dumps off a pass behind him to-Chang dives! Over in the corner at the Slytherin end, she flattens out and... she has the Snitch! Oh, my! Ravenclaw wins, again by a score of one hundred fifty to zero! And that match took... twenty-eight seconds!"

As the crowd cheered, Harry, Ron, and Ginny looked at each other in amazement. Impressed, Ginny said, "See, Harry, look at how you inspire others to follow your example."

Harry chuckled, as Ron said, "I wish Dalton had been the one to get inspired."

"Well, it's his first match, he's not going to be finding the Snitch in twenty-eight seconds," said Katie. "Very impressive from Cho, though. I always saw her as an average Seeker, but she did great today."

"Wonder who's going to be the Star of the Match," said Dennis facetiously.

"Well, Hilton did have a shutout, and one save, which is more than I had," said Ron in the same spirit. "He seems like a good candidate-"

"Cho Chang, would you come up here please?" asked Colin over the loudspeakers. "Well, I was wrong," said Ron. "Imagine that." Harry was interested to see what Cho would say.

"Congratulations, Cho. Quite an amazing day of Quidditch, wouldn't you say?"

"Yes, I would, Colin," she agreed. "I can't quite believe it myself. I'd like to apologize to the crowd, who came out here but didn't get to see much Quidditch."

"What we saw is remarkable enough, Cho, I don't think most people will mind. Let me ask you the same question I asked Harry, how did you do that?"

"I don't know what to say, Colin, except that I started looking, as usual, and there it was, down in the corner. I went for it, and fortunately, it didn't move away before I could catch it."

"We all know how good a Seeker Harry is, Cho. Were you pleased that you accomplished more or less the same thing he did?"

"Actually, Colin, the fact is that it took me more than twice as long as it did him to find the Snitch, so I hope to do better next time. Seriously," she added as the crowd chuckled, "I've never even found the Snitch that fast in practice. I could probably play another hundred matches and it wouldn't happen. Just one of those things."

"You play Gryffindor next time, and the winner will take the Quidditch Cup. How do you see your prospects against them?"

"We'll definitely be the underdogs, Colin. They're a very good team-they've won the last two Quidditch Cups-and their Seeker is pretty amazing. We're just going to do the best we can. It'll be a tough match, no doubt."

"Thank you, Cho. The Star of the Match, Cho Chang. Thank you, everyone, and we should be hearing the announcement from Professor Dumbledore soon." Colin put down the microphone.

"You are pretty amazing, Harry," said Ginny, patting him on the shoulder. Harry grinned embarrassedly.

"Yes, you really are, Harry," grinned Ron, who Harry rewarded with an annoyed look.

Dumbledore spoke, his voice amplified. "Thank you, Mr. Creevey. At this time I wish to announce that students third year and above may visit Hogsmeade today." A buzz went through the crowd. "There will be a strong security presence in the village; a number of Aurors will be present all day long. Students must return to the castle by 5:00 p.m. This announcement is being made at the last minute due to security considerations. There will be future Hogsmeade visits; they will consist of one day of a weekend, as is the case today, and they will not be announced until the morning of the day in question.

"This was not an easy decision to make, in view of the events of Halloween day. But we cannot live under siege, out of fear, and the heavy security will make any repeat of that attack very unlikely. That is all; thank you for your attention."

Harry looked around; nobody said anything for a moment. Ron and Ginny had already known; the others looked surprised, and Dennis looked uncomfortable. "Are you going to go, Harry?" Dennis asked.

"Of course, Dennis. How about you?"

"I don't know," he said, looking down. "I'll talk to my friends, see what they think. We were all there, we all lost a friend. It's kind of hard, especially with no notice."

"That may be a good thing, Dennis," said Ron. "This way, you can make a quick decision and just go do it. You don't have to think and worry about it for weeks in advance."

Dennis nodded, but still looked uncertain. "That's true. Also, Colin said that I should go back there as soon as I can, so I can replace that memory of Hogsmeade with a better one. I suppose he's right, but to be honest, I felt like it was easy for him to say, he wasn't there."

Harry looked at Dennis earnestly. "If it makes you feel any better, Dennis... I've been through worse situations, more than once, and Colin's right. You're not going to feel any differently about it until you go back."

Dennis gave him a shy smile. "This is the problem with having Harry Potter as a teacher and a teammate... if I look at you as an example, there's no brave thing I can get out of doing, because I know you would do it."

Harry nodded in acknowledgment of the compliment, and said, "You need to do what's best for you, Dennis, not what you think I would do."

Dennis reluctantly said, "I have a feeling that what's best for me is what you would do, and not only in this situation. Well, I'll talk to my friends, see what we decide."

Harry and Ron exchanged a glance which communicated that they expected to see him and his friends in Hogsmeade. Then Harry said, "Oh, I forgot something. Go on ahead, I'll catch up with you in the changing rooms." He ran off to where Colin was sitting, and picked up the microphone. "Excuse me... would Ernie Macmillan, Anthony Goldstein, and Thomas Dalton meet me on the field, please? Thank you."

The three surprised prefects met him as he asked. "Thanks... I wondered if you three would meet me at just before 5:00 at the school gates. There's something I need your help with."

Harry was determined to have an enjoyable Hogsmeade day, and he did. He suggested to Hermione and Neville that they spend some time alone, and as he expected, he was rebuffed. "It's good of you to suggest it, Harry," Neville had said, "and I think that Ron and Ginny can keep you safe enough, not to mention ten Aurors. But we just wouldn't feel comfortable. We find ways to be alone sometimes, but just right now, we want to be with the rest of you."

The Aurors were a comforting presence. Harry knew all of them, of course, and found himself wanting to chat, but he knew better-they were on duty, and couldn't allow themselves to be distracted. He did have smiles for Tonks and Winston, who nodded their acknowledgment without taking their eyes off their surroundings.

They spent an hour and a half in the Three Broomsticks, as much for the principle of it as anything else; they wanted to be seen there. As with the last Hogsmeade weekend, Harry visited several tables, talking to students from his classes. An hour into the visit, he looked up and saw the four surviving Gryffindor third years come in. He walked over, bought them a round of butterbeers, and joined them for ten minutes.

The five of them stopped at almost every shop in Hogsmeade, including Zonko's this time. Ron found himself disappointed, as though it had somehow lost its appeal in a way he hadn't expected. He was not at all comforted by Hermione's suggestion that it meant he was growing up and becoming too mature for practical jokes. He pointed to the one that Dumbledore had played on Fred and George; she responded that it was funny precisely because of its rarity. Ron looked unhappy, and Harry felt that it was because Ron knew she was right. Harry knew how Ron felt; he had argued with Hermione enough to know that it was frustrating to argue with someone who always seemed to end up being right.

As it got dark later in the afternoon, Harry suggested they walk down to the end of the road. As they did, Hermione asked him if it was because of what happened the last time.

"Yes, I think so," he answered. "It's kind of like what I was saying to Dennis, it's good to do the same things we did before, so we feel it doesn't have to happen that way."

"Should we tell Neville the story of what happened with Sirius?" joked Ron.

"Yeah, that was a pretty good story, Harry," added Neville. "I especially liked the part where Snape had a fit at the end of it, that he knew you did it but couldn't prove it."

"Careful, Neville, or I'll give you my little talk on Schadenfreude."

"What's... that?" asked Neville, who had clearly considered trying to pronounce the word and then decided not to bother.

Harry was about to explain, but Hermione said, "It's a German word, it means being happy when bad things happen to others. But what do you mean by 'my little talk?'"

He shook his head. "Is there anything you don't know, Hermione?" She said nothing but looked pleased. He explained what had happened months ago in his class of Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff second years.

Ron didn't scoff, but Harry thought he wanted to. "I think you're expecting a bit much of twelve-year-olds," he said.

"I didn't think they were never going to do it again," Harry pointed out. "I just wanted to be sure they knew that it wasn't good."

"Well, I think it was very farsighted and mature of Harry to explain that to them," said Hermione.

Ron snorted. "Imagine my surprise." Ginny and Neville chuckled.

Hermione whirled on Neville. "Did you just laugh? He was making fun of me!"

Harry immediately decided that he was staying out of this. Ron, however, said, "What, just because he's your boyfriend, it means he has to agree with everything you say? If that's true, that must be the reason I don't have a girlfriend."

Hermione looked at him with distaste; Harry couldn't tell whether it was feigned or genuine. "Ron, if you'll get me a five-foot-long parchment scroll, I'll make a list of reasons you don't have a girlfriend."

Harry raised his eyebrows a little, as Ron gave Hermione a disdainful look. "Sorry, Ron," said Ginny, "but you walked right into that one." This observation did not appear to make Ron feel any better.

"But thanks for taking the heat off me, Ron," said Neville wryly.

"I think you're about to find the heat's back on you, Neville," said Ginny. "You should have kept quiet and let the two of them argue. She might have forgotten she was annoyed at you."

Neville shook his head. "No chance. I know enough by now to know that. In addition to being extremely intelligent, Hermione also has an excellent memory. She might have let it go, but she wasn't going to forget."

Hermione was now trying to appear annoyed at Neville, but his compliments had softened her. He put his arm around her waist, and she reciprocated. "I still wish you hadn't laughed," she said.

Neville nodded. "I know. But it wasn't mean-spirited, I would have been upset if it was. Ron was just pointing out that your reaction to what Harry said was predictable. What you said about him and girlfriends was much worse."

Ginny nodded. "Sorry, Hermione, but he's right. It was right on the edge between a friendly put-down and being nasty."

Hermione sighed. "Come on, he knows I didn't really mean that."

"The problem is," replied Ginny, "that there's just enough truth in it to hurt a bit."

"Hey!" exclaimed Ron. Harry wanted to laugh, but didn't.

"Come on, Ron, it's true," said Ginny, not backing down. "I don't mean, and I don't think Hermione does either, that you couldn't have a girlfriend if you wanted to. I'm sure you could find someone. But the fact is that you have this gruffness, this... being contrary, sometimes insensitive, I'm not sure what to call it. But I do know that girls aren't going to find it appealing, though they might tolerate it. Now, the way you were with Harry, after the department store, that was wonderful. We hardly ever see that side of you, and if you showed it more often, girls would be chasing after you. It's too bad that it only comes out under extreme duress."

Ron said nothing in response to this; Harry figured that it was because this was exactly the sort of topic Ron didn't like to talk about. Hermione, though, seemed to be bothered at the idea that she had hurt Ron. She looked at Ron apologetically. "Ron, we're always trading comments like that, but I feel bad. I didn't mean it to come across like that. I'm really sorry. But you know I wouldn't hurt you deliberately, don't you?"

Ron looked as though he was still unhappy with her, but didn't feel it was right to say so, because she had already apologized. As he looked at her, his expression softened, and he nodded. "I know. Don't worry about it." Hermione's expression suggested that she was still worried about it, however. She didn't say anything more, but she put an arm around Ron's waist momentarily and squeezed in further apology.

"It's getting close to five o'clock," said Ginny. "We should head on back."

Recognizing that it was now safe to speak again, Harry said, "Okay, but we have to stop at the Three Broomsticks first, remember." They headed off together.

When in the Three Broomsticks, Harry had asked Madam Rosemerta to set aside eighty bottles of butterbeer, in four crates. She had done so, Harry had paid, and now he left the Three Broomsticks with the four crates hovering at his side, moving as he did.

When they reached the Hogwarts gates, they met the three prefects Harry had talked to after the Quidditch match. "Thanks for meeting me," said Harry, taking in their surprised looks on seeing the crates. "I needed your help, since I can't go into your common rooms. I'd like each of you to take one of these crates back with you, and give them to the first and second years, since they can't come to Hogsmeade."

The prefects looked impressed. "Thanks, Harry," said Ernie. "I'm sure they'll appreciate it. I know I would have, in my first year. Why are you doing this?"

"Exactly the reason you just said, Ernie. I would have appreciated it too. They don't have to feel so left out. And I can afford it, so why not." Ernie nodded his understanding, and they headed back to the castle, each prefect causing one crate to hover alongside him.

Author notes: In Chapter 19: Ron has a very eventful seventeenth birthday, both for good and bad; Harry is less than pleased to be paid a visit by Cornelius Fudge.